Hungarian cuisine is definitely not for people on a diet! I realized that after my first trip to Budapest, when I returned home with 7 extra pounds! But even though I know I’ll pay the price, I can’t refrain from eating the fattening but delicious Hungarian dishes, every chance I have.
Characteristics of the Hungarian Dishes
Hungarian food may seem heavy, but it’s rich in flavor and aroma and very tasty. Hungarians use a lot of sour cream, lard, fried garlic and onion when preparing their food.
Paprika is also a quintessential ingredient, used in preparing many of the Hungarian dishes. Other characteristics of Hungarian cuisine are the fruit soups, casseroles, and pastries.
Bread plays an important item in the Hungarian diet. Hungarians eat bread with almost everything and at every meal. They eat it at breakfast, with butter and jam; at lunch, with soup, salami, or sausages; and also eat it at dinner, with meat gravy or lard.
Hungarians also use a lot of bread when cooking. Many of their meat dishes are dipped in bread and then baked or fried.
Hungarian Signature Dishes
I love Hungarian food (and wines!) and because I’m married to a Hungarian, I learned to cook some of these dishes over the years. So here are some of my favorites:
Goulash is the most popular Hungarian dish, something between a soup and a stew, made with beef, potatoes, tomatoes, onion and paprika.
The recipe varies a little in each region of Hungary. Some cooks make it with pork and also add carrots to the mix. However, the traditional Goulash is made exclusively from beef or veal.
The meat, tomatoes, onion and paprika are cooked for several hours at a slow fire. Diced potatoes are added only when the meat is very tender. The potatoes will make the goulash thicker and smoother.
Goulash is a very popular food in Hungary and in the 1800s it was declared a national dish. They serve Goulash in almost any restaurant in Budapest, but if you want the real deal, look for a traditional Hungarian restaurant.
Pörkölt (meat stew)
Pörkölt is a rich stew made of any kind of meat, tomato, paprika, and onions. It’s usually served with a side of Hungarian noodles called nokedli. The taste is very similar to that of Goulash, which is why many visitors don’t make a distinction between the two dishes.
For best results, the meet needs to be cooked for hours. Traditionally, Pörkölt is cooked outside, over an open fire, in a heavy metal pot called bogrács.
Meggyleves (sour cherry soup)
Meggyleves is a sweet soup made of sour cherries, sour cream, and sugar. The first time my mother in law served this to me, I thought it was a desert. The fresh creamy soup is served cold, with sour cream on top. The dish looks and tastes like a delicious desert, but it’s actually eaten at the beginning of the meal, as a regular soup.
Lángos (deep fried flat bread)
Lángos is a deep fried flat bread which many people eat with shredded cheese and sour cream. I personally like to eat the Lángos plain, without any other ingredients. If they are properly fried, the dough is crunchy and very tasty.
Langós is a very well liked Hungarian food, but don’t look for it in restaurants. It’s one of the most popular street foods in Budapest and a staple at any Budapest Christmas market. The best Langós I ever tried was at the Great Market Hall in Budapest.
Töltött Káposzta (Hungarian stuffed cabbage rolls)
Although a traditional Hungarian food, Töltött Képoszta is actually common to many other Eastern European countries. However, the Hungarian recipe has a very specific flavor.
The Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are made with sauerkraut, sour cabbage leaves, beef and pork, onion, tomato sauce and paprika. The Romanian version of this dish has no paprika, but instead it uses cumin and thyme. In Polish cuisine there is also a variation of this dish, called Polish Golumpki.
Also, Hungarians eat their Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Töltött Káposzta) with sausage, sour cream and bread. As opposed to Romanians who eat their Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale) with polenta.
Csirke/Borju Paprikás (chicken/veal paprikash)
Chicken/Veal Paprikash is my favorite Hungarian dish. I’ve learned to cook it myself, but it never tastes as good as the one they make in Budapest.
Paprikás is a stew made with chicken or veal, sweet red pepper, paprika powder, garlic, onion, and tomatoes. They serve the Paprikash with galuska (dumplings) and sour cream.
Hortobagyi Palacsinta (meat pancakes)
Hortobagyi Palacsinta is my favorite Hungarian dish – a rich stew of minced veal or chicken tucked inside the pancakes. The pancakes are baked in the oven and served with sour cream and paprika sauce.
Unfortunately, not all restaurants in Budapest know how to cook this properly. If you want to taste the real thing, look for a good Hungarian restaurant, not just any tourist-trap eatery.
Libamaj (roasted goose liver/fois gras)
Foie gras is a well-known delicacy in French cuisine, but Hungarians specialize in producing it. In Hungary geese force-feeding is a tradition that dates back to the 15th century.
If animal rights activists could have their way, the custom of force-feeding the geese would vanish entirely. Truth be told, the procedure fits the bill for animal cruelty, but anyone who ever tried the famous roasted goose liver can’t forget the experience.
Libamaj (roasted goose liver) is one of the most delicious Hungarian dishes and a must-try if you are in Budapest. Libamaj (foie gras) is on many restaurants’ menu, but it’s pricey. Be warned however that some places may pass the regular goose/duck liver as foie gras, so be sure to ask specifically if they have the real thing. Especially if the price seems very reasonable.
Lecsó is a Hungarian thick vegetable stew made with yellow pointed peppers, tomato, onion, garlic and paprika. The onions and peppers are usually sauted in lard, or sunflower oil. It can be a main course or a side dish.
READ NEXT: Best Hungarian Souvenirs to Buy from Budapest
Best Traditional Hungarian Desserts
Hungary is renowned for its fine pastries and desserts. Some of the Hungarian confectionery are more modern, going back only 150 years. Others sweet recipes are much older however. The list of delicious traditional Hungarian desserts is endless, but I’m going to mention some of my favorite ones:
Dobos Torta (Dobosh cake)
Dobos torta is Hungary’s most famous cake. It was invented in 1884, and it’s made of severn thin layers of sponge cake alternating with rich chocolate butter cream. The top layer is covered with hardened caramel.
I was never able to bake it myself, but that’s probably for the better because I can’t stop eating it! Dobosh cake is a must-try if you are ever in Hungary.
Meggyes Rétes (sour cherry strudel)
Meggyes rétes is puff pastry strudel filled with sour cherries and poppy seeds. It tastes divine especially when it’s made with fresh fruit. But since sour cherries are a seasonal fruit, it’s usually made with canned sour cherries.
Szilvas Gomboc (plum dumplings)
Hungarian plum dumplings are a dish made with a mashed potato dough filled with plums. The dough is flattened out and cut into squares. The plums are pitted, wrapped completely in dough then dropped in boiling water.
When they start floating, you take them out, sprinkle them with sugar, and serve them. You can also cover them with breadcrumbs fried in butter.
Kurtos Kalacs (Chimney Cake)
Kurtos kalacs (chimney cake) is Hungary’s oldest pastry. The chimney cake is made by wrapping pastry around a cylinder, coated with lots of sugar and baked in an open fire oven.
Chimney cake is a street food, so you’ll find it at food stands and small bakeries around town. Since the recipe originated in Transylvania, you’ll find this delicious pastry in the small villages in Northern Romania as well.
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Oh thanks for this collection! All of them look so tasty!
I am sure that I will not be pronouncing the names right but I can guarantee you that my plate will be empty in the end. These look absolutely amazing. I am drooling right now.
I love Hungarian food too, Peter!
The Dobosh Torte looks amazing! I need to get to Hungary asap so I can try all the amazing foods you listed here, especially the torte! They all look super delicious!
Hi Anda, please write another list including South African dishes. It would be lovely for other people to know more about what we eat since we are also learning about Hungarian Food while in Africa.
I’d love to, Gary, but I’m not acquainted with African dishes. Hopefully I’ll be able to take a trip there soon.
I understand Anda
I can’t believe I missed this post, Anda! Thank you for posting all of these yummy dishes. I hear you about returning with extra pounds from a trip back home (or Hungary). My favorite of all is cherry soup – my grandma used to make the best! I can never make it as good though 🙁 (then again, I don’t have a cherry tree in my backyard. Love this post! 🙂
Hi Emese, good to hear from you. As a Hungarian, you are undoubtedly acquainted with all these dishes. I never liked the sour cherry soup, but my husband adores it.
I had plenty of Hungarian dishes! Goulash (gulyas) however it’s spelled, and langos is my favorites. Funny though, one of the best goulashes I’ve ever had was in Romania. I had most of the dishes photographed here but never knew what they were called. I kind of just pointed at menu pictures when I ordered at restaurants and rolled with it 🙂
I should not have read this on an empty stomach! All of these dishes look delicious, but the Dobosh Cake is calling my name! xo – Kam
Yes, I agree. Reading about food and especially seeing pictures always makes me hungry.
I’m not familiar with Hungarian cuisine so this is very interesting and tasty to read. I’m quite intrigued by the sweet cherry soup, especially as a starter. Do you like it? I’m tempted by the Paprikash and the chimney cakes. I look forward to exploring Hungarian cuisine soon. Reading this has me salivating now….
I’m sure you’ll love Hungarian food, Rosemary. As for the sour cherry soup, I don’t particularly like the combination of sweet and sour, but it’s a very flavored dish.
OMG! I am drooling over this post. I spent 4 days in Budapest and had some of these dishes, not all sadly. Food definitely makes Hungary unique. I remember walking the streets with chimney cake in hand. Great post. 🙂
Yea, chimney cake is one of my weaknesses too, Indrani.
My in-laws were Hungarian. So I tried a lot of the typical Hungarian dishes before we went to Hungary. I found that too many times there was just too much paprika for me – especially in the Paprikash. But never too much sour cream! But I sure wish we had tried Langos. We had Chimney Cakes in the Czech Republic first. But of course and to taste them when we hit Hungary! I should have left this post for after I ate! Thanks.
Hahaha, I didn’t realize you were married to a Hungarian too, Linda.
I’m not going to lie, that picture of the cake immediately caught my attention and made me hungry. 🙂 The Dobosh Torte is now at the top of my food wishlist! I’m already a goulash fan, so getting to try an authentic goulash would have to happen. And that Lángos looks and sounds insanely good!
Jenn and Ed Coleman
Sounds like I should only go to Budapest if I’m feeling Hungary. Sorry. Had to do it. But I could see gaing seven pounds on a trip there. The Dobos Torta looks incredible. I’m going to have to try that one.
You definitely have to try it, Jenn.
Whilst in Hungary, I have tried nearly every single dish here apart from the Libamaj (next time!). But I do love a good goulash by the campfire next to the shores of Lake Balaton in the spring months. Perfect!
I’m sure that tasted even better, Danik.
I’ve eaten a few of these before (though I doubt my mediocre cooking skills make them as good as the original), but what really stuck out for me was the Meggyleves. How does the sour cream combine with the sweetness of the cherries? I can’t picture the taste at all.
To be honest with you I don’t really like that soup at all. The sour cream and the cherries make a pretty strange combination for my taste, but my Hungarian husband is crazy about it. What can I say, “de gustibus…”
I love all of these. Especially the langos, Dobosh cake, and the dumplings. I grew up in Romania and we adopted many of these into our own cuisine so I grew up on them. I’m addicted to the sweets haha
I also grew up in Romania, Ioana. Yes, you are right, we adopted many of these Hungarian recipes, although our spices were a little different.
Dan and I will be in Budapest for the first time in mid-June and we are really looking forward to it. It’s a shame that I have to avoid wheat because those tortes and langos look absolutely delightful. Guess I’ll have to rely on Dan’s reports, haha.
Thanks for the heads-up on what goes into the meat dishes too, because we don’t eat anything with lard or pork. Great hearing about oose liver, paprikash and goulash; they will keep our taste buds quite happy, I’m sure.
There is a great variety of dishes without lard and pork that you can enjoy. I don’t eat pork either and have no problems in Budapest. As for the wheat, there may be something without, but I am not sure.
It’s so true, Valeria. That’s why I enjoy trying different cuisines.
Well I’m ok with the ‘heavy’ food, there is a lot of the same in the UK, so I’m right at home with that, hehe.
Will skip the Goose Liver, but I’m all over the desserts 😉
I absolutely L-O-V-E kurtoskalacs (especially with cinnamon)!!! 😀
Hungarian cuisine is so underrated, a shame really as I had the best food when I was in Budapest. And the wines, ah the wines!!
I don’t know if it’s underrated. I come from that part of the world and there is actually really famous.
Wow, so many new foods to try when I return to Budapest. Having a sweet tooth I would love to try both of the tortes you mentioned… yum!
I think you’ll love them, Lyn.
This sounds so tasty! I remember having goulash a lot as a kid, but obviously at the time didn’t realize it was Hungarian. Can’t wait to visit Hungary one day 🙂
I think you are going to have a blast in Hungary, Ashley, at least in Budapest.
It all sounds good but I think that Roasted Goose Liver served up cold might give me a bit of a challenge. Lol. Sour Cream is rather popular it seems. 🙂
Very heavy food, but very tasty!
Whenever someone puts out a list like this I’m always scared to read them for fear of missing out on some classics despite living in Hungary for 2 years. The only one I missed is the Eszterhazy Torte, but that’s okay. I’m not too keen on sweets anyways. I could sure go with a langos right about now. Junk food ftw.
I’m sure you haven’t miss anything, Adelina, if you lived there for two years.
Almost everything sounds delish!! I would love to learn how to make some of those dishes – especially that torte!
I feel safer not knowing hot to make these dishes, especially the Dobosh Torte. It’s a really dangerous and mean desert!
I make a pretty mean goulash myself, but I’d like to try the real thing! And torte…so yummy!